It could have been the start of a promising feud, even if it didn't result in a title win. After months of being treated like an afterthought by creative, Rusev finally got the respect he deserves from WWE's powers, starting with a 30-minute Royal Rumble stint, and continuing with a big win in a number one contender's match for Bobby Roode's United States Championship. Rusev wasn't able to beat Roode for the title, contrary to what many were hoping for, but the real kicker came when Randy Orton made his SmackDown Live TV return and served up RKOs for everyone in the ring – Roode, Rusev, and Aiden English.
It's not just the possibility of Orton challenging Roode for the U.S. Championship, as opposed to a mid-carder who may better deserve the rub that we're worried about here. Instead, it's the effect of WWE's seeming decision to go with someone tried and tested as Roode's next opponent, as opposed to someone who, while previously tried and tested, needs a big break more than ever before. Thanks to his uncharacteristic timing and sense of humor, Rusev has gotten over big-time with Rusev Day – we're referring to both his tag team with Aiden English and, as far as we're concerned, a day every day should be. The fans love him, and his merchandise is selling like hotcakes. We don't doubt that WWE is trying to take advantage of this phenomenon. But with those RKOs out of nowhere and what could be the end of a promising rivalry with Roode, WWE is doing something counterintuitive and unintentionally messing with a good thing.
When we first saw Rusev on the main roster in 2014, he still had a first name (Alexander), and his gimmick was purely derivative – a throwback to the foreign heels of old whose main purpose was to get the crowd chanting "U-S-A!" But we also saw a rarity among big men, as he was a 300-pounder with cat-like agility, and a good mix of power moves and technical wrestling skills. He hardly spoke, as he had his manager and future real-life wife Lana doing that for him, and when he opened his mouth, it was usually to bark out random stuff in his native Bulgarian. But as it turned out, Rusev was actually fluent enough in English, and able to cut a good promo. And while Lana was the main selling point of that anti-American partnership at first, Rusev proved to be capable of entertaining audiences on his own.
One would have thought that by now, Rusev would have been in the WWE Championship picture multiple times. After all, he went unpinned and un-submitted for over a year, until John Cena finally pinned him and won the U.S. Championship from him at WrestleMania 31. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case. With the League of Nations, the "love quadrangle" storyline with Lana, Dolph Ziggler, and Summer Rae, getting beaten by Orton in 9 seconds at SummerSlam 2017 and jobbing to the stars for most of 2016 and 2017, Rusev has had trouble grabbing the proverbial brass rings for close to three years. Rusev Day is clearly his ticket to redemption, but WWE's booking has made him look like a transitional rival to Bobby Roode, instead of a legit threat to become a three-time United States Champion.
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Another opportunity WWE may have blown, thanks to that "RKOs-for-everybody" segment on the February 6 SmackDown Live, was the chance to pull off a double turn that could benefit both men involved. With Roode at his best when working as a heel, and Rusev Day extremely over with the WWE Universe, we could have easily seen both men swap alignment in a double turn that makes perfect sense. It's not impossible for us to see such a booking decision in the future, but for the moment, WWE missed out by seemingly hot-shotting the Rusev vs. Roode feud.
With all the names currently occupying SmackDown Live's main event scene – AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Shinsuke Nakamura – we don't expect Rusev to escape the mid-card anytime soon. But it would behoove the WWE to continue taking Rusev Day seriously, instead of turning the Bulgarian Brute into another flavor-of-the-month recipient of an improved push. Yes, we understand WrestleMania is coming soon, and if Orton is really stepping forward as Roode's next big rival for the US title, this may be Vince McMahon's way of getting casual butts in the seats for 'Mania's undercard. But it's about time Rusev gets a good push once again – he truly deserves it, after all he's been through creatively since 2015.
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